Lakelife chats with them before their Farewell Tour, which includes Eatonton concert
There are few performing bands who have stood the test of time. Banks & Shane is one of the rare exceptions. This year, they celebrate 50 years of entertaining innumerable crowds with their original tunes and covers of beloved folk, pop, and bluegrass classics. And they’ve played with world-renowned groups such as The Kingston Trio, The Limeliters, Kenny Rogers, Peter Paul and Mary, John Denver, and The Righteous Brothers. “They say we opened for them,” Paul Shane says, “but I say they closed for us.”
“There’s an old saying that you can become very wealthy in the music business, you just can’t make a living at it,” Banks Burgess shares. “For some reason we’ve been able to bust that code and make a good living for a long time, without suffering the pitfalls of the musician’s life. It’s a neat trick and I don’t know how we’ve accomplished it, but things worked out that way.”
And now, they’re celebrating their 50th anniversary with a “Farewell, Friends” retirement tour. Five additional musicians will join their standard five-piece band for this special series of concerts. They’ll be in Lake Oconee on Friday, October 14. The concert’s proceeds will benefit Harmony Medical Foundation, a local nonprofit whose mission is to expand healthcare in Lake Country and its surrounding counties.
We spoke with the duo to learn more about their history and their highlights:
When did you start playing music?
Banks Burgess (BB): My sister came home with a ukulele and a Kingston Trio record the summer I was in the eighth grade in 1962. I thought, “That sounds like something I could do.” … She taught me a few chords, then I got a baritone uke
and eventually, a guitar. I was growing up when folk music was at the forefront of the scene. Then I was exposed to bluegrass music and got really into that.
Paul Shane (PS): I began taking music lessons when I was 7 years old. Played and sang all the way through school. I started on piano, but my sister was already good at it, so I learned trombone. … I still play [trombone] in the show, but I’m only good for about two songs. I started playing guitar and bass in high school. Some friends and I put a little bluegrass band together… [Later on] I was hired to play bass at The Down Under.
BB: In August 1972, the summer after my junior year at University of Georgia, my roommate and I decided to go down to Florida, and play music until school started. We called ourselves “The Other Brothers.” We wound up in St. Petersburg/Treasure Island …playing music around the swimming pool during the day. …We heard of this nightclub in St. Pete, The Down Under. (We) wandered in there …went up and introduced ourselves to Paul, who was playing bass, and the three of us became friends. Paul ended up moving in with us, and the club hired (my roommate and I) to play a short set between theirs. One night, Paul came up and joined us on stage and that’s the way the whole thing started.
PS: I went to the Navy, Banks taught high school in Augusta, and when I got out of the service, we decided Atlanta was the place to go. We started in 1972 in PJ Kenny’s Saloon in The Underground. … And (eventually) we opened our own place – Banks & Shane’s - in Sandy Springs. That club was wonderful. We not only got to play there five nights a week, but we had so many great bands come through – The Count Basie Orchestra, The Drifters, The Temptations.
How many shows do you think you’ve played?
BB: Oh my word. Gosh… Over 50 years? I don’t know. That math is beyond me! For the first 20 years, we played five nights a week, 48 weeks a year. Then during the ’90s to about 2004-05, we were playing around 120 shows a year. We’ve slowed down to about 50-60 shows a year.
What’s the most interesting place you’ve played?
BB: There have been several notable shows over the years… the first big concert we did was at Symphony Hall in Atlanta in 1978. We produced an album from that, and it was televised by TBS. That was significant for us. And we were very honored to be a part of Johnny Isakson’s election to the U.S. Senate in 2005. …(When he was sworn in), he brought us up to Washington D.C. to play at a big party in Kennedy Center.
PS: During the '80s and '90s we played for the Convention Bureau and Delta Airlines, representing Georgia all over the world.
BB: We’ve played London a couple of times, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt, Mallorca. In 1980, we went on a tour of Saudi Arabia, which is probably the most unusual place we’ve played. There were about 10,000 Americans working there with Aramco Oil, and we toured the different bases.
(Do you) have a set list, going in to shows?
PS: No, never. Well – for this show, we will have a set list since we’ll have a 10-piece band. It’s hard to be spontaneous when you have other musicians. The core group [myself, Banks, Jim Durand, Chuck Shane, and Felton Dunn] are war tested. But when you have (other instruments) – it’s a little harder to improvise.
We played recently with the 10-piece band and it was amazing. It’s going to be spectacular and we’re all looking forward to playing at the Lake. We know so many people who live (there), we’re always surrounded by friends when we come do these shows!
Do you have a favorite song to play?
BB: Both Paul and I have varied musical interests – we enjoy lots and lots of kinds of music. I don’t know that there’s an absolute favorite song. But it happens pretty frequently that we’ll be doing a show and the harmony will feel just right, and the tempo will feel just right. Everyone’s playing together and listening to each other, and some pretty good music comes out. Those are the favorite moments.
Something special I’ve noticed (is that) even in front of a (large) crowd, it feels like you’re playing a show for your friends in their backyard.
BB: Music has been a vehicle for us to communicate with our audience. …We’ve always enjoyed communicating with our audience, not just performing. We bring them into the party. We’ve always been participants. For us, that’s what entertainment is all about.
And 50 years is a long time to be doing anything, let alone stay friends with someone.
PS: Especially in the music business! …We’ve been through all kinds of good and bad in our careers, and we’ve been together, friends through it all. The band has been a constant in our lives. It’s been a blessing.
BB: We’ve had a wonderful run of 50 years. Not many bands, not hardly any bands, are able to do that. We’re ‘officially’ retiring, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop playing… if somebody calls us up and asks us to come play, we’ll be there.
See Banks & Shane one last time in Lake Country on their “Farewell, Friends” Tour on October 14 at Harmony Park. Tickets are sold in tables of 8 and 10. Gates open at 5 p.m., concert begins at 7:30 p.m. BYOB and food – it’s a party!
Visit www.harmonymedicalfoundation.com for more information and to purchase tickets online, or call Harmony Medical Foundation at 762-220-1049.
Hear Banks & Shane online and shop their discography at www.banksandshane.com.
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Interview and story by Ashley Beresch, published in Lakelife magazine, July-August 2022.